Friday, May 31, 2019


Drinking tuba out of a bongbong

Gi 1900 na såkkan, ma sodda' na tumutuba si Encho' sin lisensia. 
(In 1900, Encho' was discovered making tuba without a license.)

Ma otden si Encho' para u fåtto sigiente dia gi tribunåt para u fåna' i Señot Hues.
(Encho' was ordered to go the following day to the court to face the Judge.)

Finaisen si Encho' ni amigu-ña, "Ti ma'åñao hao Encho' na debe de un falak i kotte agupa'?"
(Encho' was asked by his friend, "Aren't you afraid Encho' that you have to go to court tomorrow?")

"Åhe' adei," ilek-ña si Encho'. "Bai fañule' un galón tuba ya bai na' chagi i Hues. 
("Not at all," Encho' said. "I will bring a gallon of tuba and I'll make the Judge try it.)

Siempre ha sotta yo' an monhåyan gue' gumimen."
(He'll surely let me go when he's done drinking.")

Tuba is fermented coconut sap, which develops into alcohol. It isn't very strong, usually 4% alcohol. But drink enough of it and you can become mildly intoxicated.

In the old days, a tuba maker was called a tubero. But nowadays hardly anyone uses the word. In the Philippines, a tubero is a plumber, based on the Spanish tubería (plumbing). Another Chamorro word for a tuba maker (or drinker) is tituba. The emphasis is on the first syllable; TItuba.

A bongbong was a bamboo container for liquid.

The early American Naval governors tried, some more than others, to regulate the production of tuba by requiring a government license to make it. Those who made tuba without the license, if caught, were fined. Some governors didn't pursue this very much and others did.

Monday, May 27, 2019



While a great many people know about Guam's Father Jesús Baza Dueñas, killed by the Japanese just before the American return to Guam in 1944, very few people have even heard of Luta's Brother Miguel Timoner.

Timoner is Luta's Father Dueñas. He was executed by the Japanese in Luta around June 5, 1944, just a month ahead of Father Dueñas.


Miguel Timoner Guadera was born in in 1892 in the town of Manacor, on the island of Mallorca in the Baleares, a part of Spain.

before he left for the Jesuit mission of Micronesia

He joined the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) but to remain as a brother, not to become a priest. As a brother, he was assigned to assist Father Juan Pons as his secretary. Pons was in charge of the Jesuit novitiate in Veruela near Zaragoza in Spain. The novitiate is the first formal step in becoming a member of a religious Order or congregation. It is a time spent in rigorous discipline and training.

Pons felt called to the missions and left, in 1921, to work in the Jesuit missions of the Carolines. Timoner followed Pons, ever his ready assistant. When Pons was assigned to Luta (Rota) in 1937, Timoner moved to Luta, as well. Timoner dedicated his whole life to nursing Pons who suffered from terrible ulcers on his legs. Pons eventually died in Luta in March of 1944.


In June of 1944, the Americans began making war on Luta. American ships and planes bombed the island intensely. The 800 or so Chamorros, many of whom lost their homes to American bombs, were sheltered in caves on orders from the Japanese. The Japanese eluded air raids as much as they could, and a thick feeling of dread overcame the Japanese as they expected the Americans to land any time. Even though the Americans never did invade Luta, the Americans sure made the Japanese think it was just about to happen.

Just as it happened on Guam, the Japanese were put in a volatile mood due to their fears of an American invasion, helped by locals feeding them information about Japanese defense positions. The Japanese on Luta were on high alert for any signs of Chamorro betrayal.

In this tense atmosphere, a dozen or so Chamorros were suspected of being American spies. After investigating their cases, only five of the suspects were deemed guilty of espionage. The rest were let go. Timoner was included among the five "guilty."


What were these acts of espionage? The Japanese observed that torches, flashlight signals and different colored flares would go off at night, and that the American ships responded with their own signals. It was as if someone on shore was communicating with the American ships.

During the day, the Japanese discovered wide sheets of cloth spread out over the beach, as if to signal American planes. They would also find the remains of bonfires, some of them shaped like an arrow pointing to the Japanese air strip at Sinapalo. If lit at night, these fires could be seen and, even during the day, their ashen remains could still be seen by a passing plane.

As the Japanese investigated and interrogated people, they claimed to find secret notebooks and letters among these five "spies," indicating Japanese positions, describing weaponry, ammunition and numerical strength. Some of the information dealt with areas off-limits to the civilian population, indicating that these suspects trespassed into prohibited territory.

The Japanese claimed that these five individuals recorded all this sensitive and confidential military information to give to the Americans once they came. In addition, the Japanese claimed that these men cut off Japanese telephone lines, and spread demoralizing rumors among the people. Finally, the Japanese claimed that some Chamorros mentioned that these five men said they would contact the Americans once they arrived, in order to assist them, and some of these five men admitted, so the Japanese claimed, all the above to the Japanese when they were questioned.

Unfortunately, the records spelling out the specific instances of espionage by each of the five individually did not survive the war. We do not know what exact evidence was obtained (if at all) against Timoner, nor the others. All these accusations concerning these five men were based on oral statements by the Japanese involved in the killing of the five.

For the Japanese command in Luta, it was all cut and dry. They were convinced these five men were siding with the Americans and doing everything possible to harm the Japanese and assist the enemy. The Japanese commander in Luta asked the higher command in Guam what to do with these five men. Guam replied that the Japanese Army policy was to execute spies. No trial was considered necessary. The Japanese commander on Guam was judge, lawyer and jury.


The first execution took place around June 25 along the cliff line in Tatåchok, not far from Songsong. A Japanese captain, Akira Tokunaga, had two Chamorro men taken to the spot and told them they were to be shot for the crime of espionage. Both men were given a cigarette each to smoke right before the execution. Six Japanese soldiers formed a firing line and shot them. Since the written records were lost after the war, one man was never identified and the second man was believed to be Bonifacio Esteves. Esteves was the only shoe maker in Luta at the time and several Japanese remembered that a Chamorro shoe maker was one of the two shot that day.

Around two weeks later, it was Brother Miguel Timoner's turn. A Japanese officer claimed he wanted more time to confirm the evidence against Timoner before killing him. What specific evidence surfaced was never identified. Around the 5th of July, the Japanese ordered Tomás Cruz Mangloña, Valentino Songao and Tomás Mendiola to fetch Brother Miguel and another man, the elderly Ignacio de la Cruz, from the cave where they were sheltered along with many other civilians.

By this time, the Japanese command had moved its headquarters to Tatgua, as American bombardment had rendered the Tatåchok area unusable. Timoner and de la Cruz were taken to Tatgua. There, Yoshio Takahashi, a military doctor, added potassium cyanide, a deadly poison, to a cup of coffee and offered it to Timoner, who did not know about the poison.

Timoner took a sip of the coffee but his shaking hands spilled some of it and he had an instant reaction, refusing to drink any more. He fell to the ground in great pain, clutching his stomach. Eventually he was able to sit up, but he writhed in agony. He had taken enough to poison to affect him, but not enough to kill him quickly. Takahashi sent a runner to inform Tokunaga of the situation and to ask what to do next. The runner came back with the instruction to finish off Timoner. It was seen as an act of mercy to kill him quickly, rather than let him suffer the effects of the poison some more.

Takahashi ordered a guard, Shigeo Koyama, to kill Timoner. Koyama hesitated at first, but then plunged his rifle's bayonet into the left side of Timoner's chest. Just one thrust, and Timoner fell back and died quietly.

Next, it was de la Cruz's turn. He was taken some distance away from Timoner's dead body, where it can be assumed de la Cruz could not see what happened to the Jesuit brother. De la Cruz was seated at a table where several Japanese were also sitting, with cups on the table as if they were drinking. Takahashi gave de la Cruz a cup of coffee laced with potassium cyanide, but this time de la Cruz was so thirsty that he drank the whole cup at once, after which he fell back and died in an instant.

After an American air raid, the Japanese and some Korean workers buried the two bodies in the area. No markers were used to identify the graves.

Thanks to a Chamorro passing by, Ramon Blanco Barcinas*, who knew Ignacio de la Cruz and saw him at the execution site, we can be sure it was de la Cruz who was killed. Barcinas also testified that it was Timoner who was also killed that day. Barcinas had been digging trenches and had run past the area when the American air raid began. De la Cruz was around 70 years old, and some Japanese witnesses stated that the second man killed the same day as Timoner was an older man.

The last civilian to be executed was an unidentified Chamorro male, shot by two Japanese soldiers in the Tatgua area on or around July 8.


Scene from the Guam War Crimes Trials

The Americans never invaded Luta, as they did Saipan, Tinian and Guam. The war was actually over when the Americans simply showed up on Luta and the Japanese surrendered, in September of 1945. In time, all the Japanese military on Luta, including the killers of the five civilians, were sent back to Japan. It can be assumed that the Americans had not learned yet, about the killings.

But, in time, they did and the Japanese involved in these killings were arrested in Japan and brought to Guam in 1949 for trial as war criminals. Tokunaga, the commander on whose orders everyone else acted, Takahashi the doctor who mixed the poison with the coffee, and Koyama, the guard who bayoneted Timoner, were all found guilty and given sentences, the longest being Tokunaga's seven years. But these sentences were shortened due to the time these three already had already spent in jail before trial. They did their time at Japan's famous Sugamo prison, used by the Americans for Japanese war criminals.

The main argument of the prosecutors was that the accused executed the five men without the benefit of a trial, which violated the rights of espionage suspects as stated in the Hague Conventions.


What little you can find in books, news articles and the internet about Timoner and the others sometimes state that he was shot or beheaded. The records from the war crimes trial show that Timoner was neither shot nor beheaded. He was poisoned then stabbed with a bayonet.

Some sources also state that he, and the others, were sent to Saipan first for questioning by the Japanese. This is never mentioned in the testimony of the Japanese arrested for their executions. Until I find documentation on this, I'll leave it alone for now.


This poison prevents cells from "breathing," using oxygen absorbed by the blood. In short time, the brain just shuts down and dies. If taken in sufficient amount, death can occur immediately. This was the poison of choice for such famous Nazi suicides as Eva Braun (Hitler's wife), Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Erwin Rommel.

Based on the war crimes trial records and early biographical notes in old Spanish press and some missionary letters.

* The documents state his name as Ramon B. Blanco, but this error is due to the fact that Northern Marianas Chamorros were still using the Spanish naming system where the father's surname comes first, followed by the mother's surname. There was no Ramon B. Blanco in Luta in 1944, but there was a Ramon Blanco Barcinas (American style naming), in Spanish style naming Ramon Barcinas Blanco.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Education was quite limited in the Marianas until modern times. Even in the early American administration of Guam and the Japanese administration in the Northern Marianas, the typical Chamorro child could go only as far as the fourth or fifth grade. More education than that was thought unnecessary for a society made up mainly of farmers and fishermen who were destined to be born and to die on the same, small island. You didn't need to know Spanish, nor grammar, nor even spelling, in order to grow corn or catch mañåhak.

Under Spain, colonial officials did, indeed, want some Chamorro men educated a lot more. This select class of Chamorro men would become part of the colonial system, connecting the system with the masses of Chamorro people who carried on with life on the farm and on the shore. In time, a school for girls prepared a select class of Chamorro women to become school teachers to educate some children in the basics. Some wives of prominent men, or daughters of prominent men, received a very good western education, often thanks to being taught in the home and not in the classroom.

But even in the highest schooling possible under the Spanish, one could sometimes only go as fast as the slowest learner. In order to get ahead of everybody else, one sometimes had to resort to private tutoring.

Besides being a government clerk and official, he tutored others

What one really wanted, in order to get ahead, was a more extensive knowledge of Spanish. It was the language of government and - government jobs, what few there were. But if you landed a job as a clerk in the colonial government that paid a few pesos every month, you didn't have to work in the hot sun to feed yourself. You could pay someone to bring you the food and a cook to prepare it.

It wasn't just vocabulary that mattered. One wanted to learn a bit of history, law, literature and almost anything else that elevated you in people's eyes. Some Chamorros prided themselves, and were admired by others, as knowing a bit of Shakespeare.

Besides Spanish, if you learned English, all the better. English enabled you to do business with British and American whalers and other English-speaking people who came to Guam, some permanently, and many just passing through.

Other than academic subjects, one went to a tutor to learn how to play the piano or violin, or to do special sewing.

Someone like Manuel Camacho Aflague, a Chamorro government clerk and official, who was more than likely tutored himself as a child, made a few more pesos tutoring others when not at his government desk. Other educated Chamorros who tutored were Manuel and Luís Díaz Torres. Some of the Anglo settlers on Guam spread the knowledge of English to a number of Chamorros. Some of the Spanish priests, too, tutored promising Chamorro students.

was privately tutored by Spanish priests, besides getting a classroom education
in the 1840s and 50s

The ambitious parents of these ambitious children paid the tutors with money, if and when they had it. Otherwise, tuition was paid with a basket of taro or a dozen eggs.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


One morning in 1853, as the sun was just rising, Captain Shiell of the British ship Rodsley, saw what looked like a small European vessel in the distance.

As the ship got closer, he realized it was not European at all. Six islanders in an outrigger were barely clinging to life, lost at sea. The stranded men were hundreds of miles away from any land.

It took until the next day for the rescued men to be able to stand up. They were that weak.

When the Captain tried to communicate with the men, all he could find out at first was that the six men were from Saipan.

Shiell wanted to know how long they had been adrift. He pointed to the sun, meaning "how many days?" How many times did the sun rise and set when you were lost at sea?

The men thought the captain was saying that the sun was a god. So they held up three fingers as a sign of the Trinity, and crossed two fingers, indicating that they were Catholics, and not sun worshipers.

I wonder if this is what the seamen did.

This sign of the cross involves making a cross with the thumb and the index finger. Besides making a cross, this sign uses two fingers, representing the two natures of Jesus, being both God and man. The three other fingers pointing straight up represent the Three Divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who are all one God, not three gods.

Older people kept this gesture well in the old days. Over time, people stopped forming the cross with the thumb and index finger, and just used their thumb to sign themselves.

Eventually Shiell ascertained that they had been lost for ten days.

In 1853, the vast majority of people living on Saipan were Carolinians. Chamorros there were a small number still. But many of the Carolinians were only just beginning to become Catholics in the 1850s. We'll never know for sure if the six rescued men from Saipan were Carolinian, Chamorro or possibly a mixed group.

The star indicates where the six Saipan sailors were rescued, far from home.

Nottinghamshire Guardian (UK), 11 August 1853

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Ai pobre kilisyåno!
Ma na' chispas sin pinto'-ña.
Ya ma sodda' gi bodega
na ha sasaosao lago'-ña.

(Oh poor person!
They made him/her disappear against his/her will.
And they found him/her in the basement
wiping away his/her tears.)

I have no idea what made the poor guy/gal run and cry.

But the verse is somewhat sympathetic, somewhat teasing.


Pobre. This is Spanish, meaning "poor." Not necessarily materially poor, but as in lacking in other ways. Someone in a bad situation, or suffering some setback, is thus afflicted, grievous, woeful and many other adjectives. "Poor me!" is a common phrase said by someone in some disadvantageous situation. The word pobre is left untranslated, since in Chamorro we say popble, which is our pronunciation of pobre. The Spanish version of the word is kept in this verse because our elders did, in fact, say many things in the original Spanish, even if there were a Chamorro version of the same word.

Kilisyåno. This literally means "Christian," from the Spanish word cristiano. But Chamorros used it to refer to any human being, but assuming the person was a Christian. The term wouldn't have been used for Pacific Islanders or Asians who had not (yet) been baptized.

Ma na' chispas. Chispas literally means "spark." Then it came to mean any sudden movement, like a sudden burst of water from the hose, or a sudden rush from here to there. To be "made to rush" is to be forced to move, to run away, to disappear from sight.

Sin pinto'-ña. Pinto' means "will." Sin means "without." "Without his will" means it was something he didn't want to do, but was forced to do.

Bodega. Basement. Almost all the homes built of mampostería (rock and lime) had a basement for storage and, when needed, shelter from a typhoon. Since it wasn't used like an ordinary part of the home, it was a good place to hide or find privacy.

A bodega (bottom part) in Inalåhan

Since the bodega was part-storage, part-shelter, it was usually made of stronger material and the rest of the house of lighter.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


1868 ~ 1934

The Marianas in the 1800s were known to quite a bit of people in the Western Hemisphere, especially those traveling from east to west across the Pacific.

Whalers, explorers, adventurers and opportunists were among them. Take for example a man from a prominent family in Hawaii - James "Kimo" Wilder.

The Wilder family in Hawaii was founded by patriarch Samuel, a native of Massachusetts. In Hawaii, Samuel was a shipping and transportation magnate. He was also active in Hawaii politics. In the Makiki district of Honolulu, there is a Wilder Avenue.

Kimo was the fifth child out of six. In 1893 he went to Harvard University and its Law School, became interested in art and studied painting, finishing university studies in 1895. But Kimo was not quite ready for a stationary life. After short stints at various jobs even as far away as Japan, he signed up for an expedition to the South Pacific, visiting many islands and atolls all over that vast ocean.

The expedition ended up in Hong Kong in 1897 and there he met Captain J.T. Harrison, an Englishman who had commercial and family interests in Guam, having married locally. Harrison was owner of the ship Esmeralda. Wilder agreed to go with Harrison to Guam, arriving there in 1898 with two Harvard classmates. They paid 300 yen each to go. It was supposed to be a little excursion of two weeks. Wilder ended up staying for six months. The Esmeralda did not return on schedule.

Wilder and his two companions rented an old konbento or priest's house in Hagåtña that was already showing signs of decay but still inhabitable after some simple repairs and cleaning. The one and only Spanish government doctor on Guam, José Romero y Aguilar, befriended Wilder and was the one who identified the old konbento as a place Wilder and the others could rent.

The Spanish government doctor on Guam who befriended Wilder

For a cook, Wilder hired a Chamorro man named Mariano, who apparently had spent time in Hawaii working as a cook on two Hawaiian boats, serving up special dinners at $10 each time. Back on Guam, he was happy earning $5 a month!

Hawaii was transitioning from an independent monarchy to an American territory and the Wilder money was not as available at that time as in years past. Wilder was in need of income on Guam. One way he earned money was by using his artistic skills. Wilder could paint portraits, and he made money painting the portraits of some Spanish officials on Guam and some members of the upper crust of society. He also stretched out an old sail from a boat and painted the portrait of the last Spanish governor of Guam, Juan Marina. For that, Wilder was allowed to eat as much as he wanted, I assume in the governor's kitchen.

Last Spanish Governor on Guam

Wilder had nice things to say about Marina, describing him as an excellent administrator and a charming man. Wilder also made lasting friends among the Chamorro elite, calling them unspoiled and delightful.

Taking advantage of a ship going from Guam to Pohnpei, Wilder and companions took a trip there. As they made their way back to Guam, Wilder somehow got news that relations between the US and Spain were not good. The USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor in February, and many in the US blamed Spain for it. Spain accused the US of aiding the Cuban independence effort. It seemed that war could break out between the US and Spain, with the American Wilder passing away the time on Spanish Guam!

So when the Esmeralda arrived on Guam and planned on sailing again, Wilder took the opportunity to leave with it. He later wrote out an extensive report on Guam which he sent to American authorities which was used in war preparations for the island.

Wilder left Guam with a special souvenir, a 13 year old boy! María Castro was a friend of Wilder's and Wilder was very fond of her. María brought her young son to see Wilder off, and she more or less gave José to take with him to Hawaii. "Teach him to read and write and to work hard," she said. "And don't let him do as he likes." José went to Honolulu with Wilder, working for him for five years and learning about the big, big world.

One can only wonder if he sketched or painted any Guam scenes, and where they may have ended up now. Did he write any memoirs or diary while on Guam? Did he have any Chamorro sweethearts and did he leave any descendants behind?

Settling for good in his native Hawaii, Wilder did good for himself, continuing his painting and founding the Boy Scouts in Hawaii.

Friday, May 3, 2019


A Korean snack brand known as Pepero.

A branch of the Dueñas family on Guam, and some Sablans from Saipan, are better known as familian Pépero.

The interesting thing about the nickname Pépero is that the sound of it is Spanish, not indigenous Chamorro, but, as far as I can tell from searching, the word has no meaning in Spanish or even in slang, whether from Spain or a former Spanish colony. There is also no surname Pépero among Spaniards. So....where did Pépero come from?

From a Guam funeral announcement. The deceased was a member of the Pépero clan, among others.

Some indications that Pépero is not an indigenous word is the use of the letter R. Typically, in Chamorro we avoid the R sound and often replace it with L. Guitarra becomes gitåla; cigarro becomes chigålo.

It's also not typical that an indigenous word of three syllables stresses the first of the three syllables. It does happen, but not often.

A Saipan funeral announcement. There, Pépero refers to some Sablans.

There are many possible origins of the nickname Pépero. There might be a connection with the nickname Pepe for José. It might come from some slang word that has long been forgotten or which was once in use by a small group of people from Latin America or the Philippines. One day we may find the answer in some obscure, old book hiding in some dark corner of a library somewhere.

The family itself might have some oral legend about the name. But, until then, we do not know what it means or why it became a nickname for some families among us.